Hulu, of course, is the initially successful joint venture between NBC and Fox that puts TV episodes online in a clean interface with no user created stuff or piracy (hello, YouTube). It also distributes its content to partner sites, though that has proved less successful than the destination site.
TV.com was a basic news, information and community site about, well, television owned by CNET. When CBS bought CNET last year, it got TV.com. It recently re-launched with a much more slick design, focused much more on video. It is, pretty clearly, CBS’ effort to combat Hulu. Which has a lot to do with why Hulu recently decided to pull its content from TV.com. With NBC and Fox content, as well as the many cable networks that work with Hulu, now off TV.com, it’s mostly a repository for CBS shows, along with information, message boards and promo videos for other networks’ programs.
Right now, Hulu is the much better site. It has more content and is better designed. But CBS is putting a lot of muscle behind TV.com. And it has beaten Hulu to a really important punch: the iPhone / iPod Touch. Last week, TV.com released an app that streams video right onto the mobile device, via wi-fi or, if you’re patient, cellular connections.
In practice, all of the content on the TV.com iPhone app is from CBS (or CBS owned networks CW and Showtime), making it essentially the CBS iPhone app. Users who haven’t caught onto that corporate issue will undoubtedly be annoyed. But the quality of what they have is quite good. For mobile, the video is excellent. And though it takes a minute or two, it’s perfectly possible to get video even if you’re not on wi-fi. They made the questionable decision to break up full episodes into clips, which is a little disconcerting since you have to start one clip, go back to the menu, start the second, etc. But the good news is that sub-10 minutes clips are much easier to manage, and load, on a phone than 40-plus minutes. The interface isn’t stellar, but for the first iteration of an app on such a little screen, isn’t bad.
Unfortunately the content selection isn’t great so far. There are only full episodes of a few shows, like “CSI,” “NCIS,” and “Star Trek.” A lot of the series featured offer only a few clips, even ones that stream full episodes on the Web like “Survivor.” In a sense it’s amazing to be getting full episodes of any TV show that just aired, though it’s frustrating that a Web brand can’t bring so much of its content onto the iPhone.
Fundamentally, what this signifies is that the race to get TV onto the iPhone and iPod Touch is on. (Joost already has an iPhone app, although as with its online service, the content is primarily library stuff and anime, not new episodes from networks.) Hulu will undoubtedly be following suit soon. Which is amazing when you think about it, since the networks haven’t figured out how to make money from streaming their shows on the Web (at least not nearly as much as they make on air). Mobile will be an even tougher challenge. So far there don’t seem to be any ads at all on TV.com’s iPhone app. But, for now, competition seems to be the primary motivator and consumers, or at least iPhone owners, are the big winners.